From planting vines to savoring the finished product, Jeff Cox covers every aspect of growing flawless grapes and making extraordinary wine. Fully illustrated instructions show you how to choose and prepare a vineyard site; build trellising systems; select, plant, prune, and harvest the right grapes for your climate; press, ferment, and bottle wine; and judge wine for clarity, color, aroma, and taste. With information on making sparkling wines, ice wines, port-style wines, and more, this comprehensive guide is an essential resource for every winemaker.
|Edition description:||Fifth Edition, New edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 2.50(d)|
About the Author
Jeff Cox is the author of 21 books on food, wine, and gardening, including Gardening with Biochar, From Vines to Wines, and Cellaring Wine. He was the managing editor of Organic Gardening for many years, and currently serves as a contributing editor to The Tasting Panel, SOMM Journal, Clever Root, and Horticulture magazines, and writes a monthly garden feature for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. He has been the host of the PBS television series Your Organic Garden and Grow It! on HGTV. Cox lives in Sonoma County in California.
Read an Excerpt
Selecting the Vines
The right wine-grape variety for you is the one that ripens well in your area.
Being a home winemaker is a lot like being an amateur opera singer. Both activities entertain friends. When done badly, reaction can range from disgust to token tolerance. When done competently, reaction ranges from enjoyment to admiration for the performer. When done with excellence, the audience will stare in disbelief, rise to applaud, and demand more.
The purpose of this book is to bring the reader swiftly and surely to the goal of excellence. As I am a longtime grower and winemaker myself, be prepared to hear me say how I did it, but don't be tempted to follow. Rather, digest the information you find here and proceed as you see fit. Handling a living being such as a grapevine calls for skill and attention to detail. So does making wine. Both, to achieve excellence, must be done artfully. As all artists know, what works for one doesn't necessarily work for another. Same materials, same physical laws, but — voilà! — here a Picasso, there a Van Gogh. There's no way to teach the art; that comes from within. But if your enthusiasm waxes strong enough, art will break through. I've met many artists of the grape in my travels. All shared one common trait: they were determined, no matter what, to do their very best. It's my hope that the material in this book will help you do your very best with this delicate task of home winemaking.
The Secrets of Good Wine
There's a maxim among traveled wine drinkers that any wine tastes best in the region it comes from (and with that region's food). If that's true, then homemade wines must taste best when drunk at home, so if you are making exceptional wine to begin with, it doesn't get any better than that. There are not many peak experiences available to us for the dollar or so our homemade wine costs. My personal peak experience came during a lunch a few years ago on a sweet, dry, sunny summer day. I knifed a ripe cheese made from our goat's milk and slathered it on chunks of bread fresh from the oven, bread made from grain I'd ground by hand that morning. I washed it all down with a thick, oaky homemade Chancellor. All three foods are the product of predigestion by yeasts or bacteria. All three involve triple partners: goat, bacteria, and human; wheat, yeast, and human; grape, yeast, and human. Lunching in the center of such a maelstrom of interspecies cooperation and pregnant numerology, I never felt more at home nor more in the right place.
Auspicious years for humankind are often years of great excellence for wine, as the destinies of human and grape do seem forever intertwined. The immensely great year of 1945 springs to mind. Human and grape collectively sighed in relief at the end of the Second World War and went back to celebrating life with the finest vintage of the century.
"The secret of the wine is the grapes it's made from," says Bill Wagner, a longtime New York State winemaker whose Finger Lakes chardonnays can give any white wine a run for its money. The winemaker's role is to protect and preserve the quality of good grapes right into the bottle. Jim Mitchell of Sakonnet Vineyards in Rhode Island, who does as good a job with French-American hybrid grapes as anyone, quotes these maxims:
* The most important elements of great wine are, first, the grape; second, the climate; third, the soil; and fourth, the skill of the winemaker — in that order.
* The best wines are made as far north as a particular grape variety will grow.
* To produce great wines, the vines must suffer, rather like athletes.
Pondering this last, Robert Weaver, professor of viticulture and enology at the University of California at Davis, says, "One viticultural theory is that a struggling vine produces better wine than one that has better growing conditions. If this is true, the reason may be that the struggling vine has smaller berries than the vine growing under more favorable conditions. Thus there is more skin (which contains more pigments, flavor, and tannins) per gallon of wine than when the grapes are larger."
The elements for great wine are just the same for the home winemaker as for commercial wineries: The right grape variety in the right climate and soil achieves the right balance of sugar, acid, pH, and flavor components. When all these things come together, the results can be spectacular indeed. The world's foremost example is the Sauternes produced at Château d'Yquem south of the city of Bordeaux. Speaking of this wine — an incredibly luscious, sweet, long-lasting, golden drink fit for toasting the Second Coming — Émile Peynaud, the renowned French enologist, said, "If you could measure a taste, an odor, you would find a number value for Yquem that is ten times greater than for a white wine. There is an intensity, a concentration, a richness, a complexity of odor and flavor completely unique." Most wines can be imitated: "One can always copy them elsewhere," Peynaud said. "But Yquem is absolutely inimitable. We haven't even been able to imitate it in Sauternes."
Wherever the property, there is a variety of grape that will produce the most excellent wine possible. Your task, long before the first bottles come to life in your cellar, is to identify that vine, for, as Doug Knapp, former president of the American Wine Society, says, "The grape makes the wine." Attempts to produce a rich Napa-style cabernet in Minnesota may be doomed to failure, but perhaps that property could be the home of the finest Sabrevois in the world. So what if it's not Yquem? It's probably a much better Sabrevois than they can produce in Sauternes.
The Origin of Classic Wine Grapes
In order to find the perfect variety for you, it's valuable to look for a moment at the original home of Vitis vinifera, the classic wine grape, to see what its habits and needs are and evaluate its potential for your place. V. vinifera varieties have the potential to make the greatest wines. In areas where they don't ripen well or are otherwise hard to grow, hybrids of vinifera and American grapes (French-American hybrids) are often grown. American wine grape varieties by themselves can also be used.
Interestingly, vinifera is native to the same area of southwestern Russia as the original Indo-European peoples, whose prehistoric migrations carried the Indo-European language and the vinifera grape to all parts of the ancient world. Some scientists say the original home was around the Caspian Sea, while legend and tradition favor ancient Armenia. The philologists have the last word, however. The ancient Indo-Europeans most likely came from an area southeast of Poland and north of the Caspian Sea. The word sleuths know this because as the tribes migrated east to India, west to Greece, and north into Europe, they carried with them their language. They've discovered, for example, that there is a word for beech in Sanskrit, although no beech grows in India. It was obviously carried there by a people who came from a land where beech does grow. By closely examining words for flora and fauna in the modern Indo-European languages (current in all of Europe save for Finland, Hungary, and Turkey, and through much of the Middle East to India), they've located the original home in the place where that flora and fauna grow without cultivation. And it is precisely in this area that V. vinifera still grows wild. The vines grow wild in the trees. (Incidentally, I know a farmer near Bordeaux who grows vines on his fruit trees to this day.) According to the late Maynard Amerine, a foremost wine scientist in the United States, "The fruit of wild vinifera is palatable and the wine is of a quality comparable to that made from present cultivars."
There's evidence of vine cultivation six thousand years ago in the Near East, although there's no evidence of any cultivation west of Greece until 1000 B.C. The westward movement of the vine then followed the ancient Phoenician sea routes. By the time of Christ, the first vineyards were being established along the Mosel River in Germany. The westward movement continued; it was only in 1958 that Vitis vinifera traveled across the Pacific from California and was first introduced to the Philippines.
As vinifera moves, local growers tend to cross it with native vines. This happened in the eastern United States in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, producing some excellent hybrids. In the Caribbean and Venezuela, vinifera and native V. caribaea vines have produced vigorous races of Criollas that suit that climate, opening the potential for a true grape culture.
Physical evidence of the migration of Indo-Europeans carrying their beloved grapes is supported by the philologists. In India, the Sanskrit word for wine is vena. In Italy, vino. It acquired an intercalary h as it became vinho in Portugal. Up north it became vin in France, wein in Germany, and wine in English. Although the words are different, they're obviously variations of the original Indo-European word for wine. What that word was, nobody knows.
There are many biblical references to vines. One of the most well known is found in Numbers 13:23–24: "They came to the valley of Eshcol; there they cut off a vine branch with a cluster of grapes, which two men carried away on a pole, as well as pomegranates and figs. This place was called the valley of Eshcol after the clusters which the sons of Israel had cut there." Eshcol is the Hebrew word for cluster. According to L. H. Bailey, the horticultural taxonomist, "Syrian is said to be the variety that the spies found in the land of promise. Clusters of 20 to 30 pounds (99–14 kg) are common to this coarse-growing kind, but its quality is so poor that it is now rarely grown." After 40 years in the desert, I suppose the Israelites thought Syrian was just fine.
After thousands of years of history and migration, about six thousand varieties of grapes are now grown on 22 million acres (9 million hectares) worldwide. Despite this welter of grapestock, you can find the variety suited to your taste and land.
The Spirit of Grape Growers
But before looking for the perfect grape to marry, be aware that you're entering into a human endeavor with a long history and a fine tradition of good humor. "The world of wine is united by a marvelous spirit of sharing and friendliness," says Bern Ramey in his book on the great wine grapes. And I remember what one grape grower said to me as I browsed the equipment shelves in the Compleat Winemaker in St. Helena, California. Without prompting, he offered this cheerful observation: "It's wonderful here. Everybody's involved in winemaking in one way or another. Nobody's jealous. Competitors share their knowledge, and they know how to have fun." Having fun is what this is all about.
A Self-Education in Wine
Winemaking is an immediate, year-to-year business. Finding the right vine, on the other hand, can take years — although if you select the vines carefully, it's possible to find the ideal vine on the first try. Then you must establish the vineyard and wait several years before it bears the kind of crops needed to make wine. When your vineyard does produce good crops, be prepared for them. Find a local source of fresh wine grapes now and start making wine as soon as it's feasible. By the time the vineyard is producing, you'll know how to treat the grapes after they ripen as well as before. The testing and waiting time will be a lot more fun if wine is flowing in this interim.
Recognizing Wine Quality
Understand from the outset that there's no possibility of making a fine red Bordeaux unless you live there. Good California cabernet will forever come only from California. The pursuit of quality will not necessarily be furthered by imitating any existing wine. What we're doing here is looking for unique wine of the highest quality.
To do that, it's necessary to recognize the quality in your glass. And so, I'm setting you a pleasant task, which can be dispensed with only if your palate is already well educated — that is, if it's familiar with the aromas and taste of a great Rheingau, a great Mosel, a great Champagne, a superb Burgundy (from Burgundy, of course), a great Médoc, a great Graves, and the best that Australia, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, California, and New York have tooffer. There are many other fine wines from other areas, but knowing the quality that's found in the best of these places leaves you in a position to recognize quality wherever it's met and to go for it in the vineyard. The discriminating palate is the critical palate, and it's sad to see someone wrinkle up his or her nose at a fine wine, not because it's bad, but because of the lack of education of that palate. Cheap, drinkable jug wines are to be had, and serve their purpose. But quality bears an inverse relationship to the size of the advertising budget. The task, then, is to invest in the refinement as well as the education of your palate, especially by looking for properly aged wines from the best years. It will do no good to buy a bottle of the finest Bordeaux at high cost if it comes from a dismal year. Rather, if you're going to spend on the best, consult a vintage chart to help make sure it is the best — that is, a first-growth from a good year with enough age to be at its peak. Areas like Bordeaux, Burgundy, the eastern United States, and the Pacific Northwest have chancy summer weather. Some years are great, some good, some not so good, and some are just awful. California's wine country, on the other hand, has fairly reliable and steady summer weather. That means that almost every year is a great year there, and the vintage dates, while meaningful, are not as important as they are in the areas of variable weather.
For some years I didn't think California reds aged as well as French reds. That was, perhaps, because not enough time had elapsed that it was possible to taste older California reds. Now I've tasted many, and they indeed age beautifully, although perhaps faster than classic French reds. Great French reds are very much like flowers in their aging process. For years they are like buds: tightly closed, filled with promise. Slowly the tannins fall away, and the flower opens, spilling its perfume and fruit. And then its moment passes; it slowly fades into unpalatability. For my parents' 50th wedding anniversary, I bought two bottles of 1926 Pichon Lalande, a very high-class Pauillac. I decided to keep one and give them the other. My bottle had faded and wasn't worth drinking. Miraculously, theirs was glorious, like their marriage, which truly was golden. Once the bottle was opened, though, it faded within a half hour. Similarly, a rather wealthy friend who lives in New York City invited me to share a bottle of 1918 Haut-Brion with him. The treasure was intact, a veritable dowager empress of a wine, with full, if short-lived, powers. Like the woman in Lost Horizon who leaves Shangri-La and ages several hundred years in a few minutes, the wine died within a half hour. With great French reds, 10 to 15 years of bottle age usually brings the wine to perfection, although exceptional vintages (like the 1918, another year that, like the 1945, saw the end of a terrible war) keep going for decades. The taste and smell of a properly aged Bordeaux (cedar, wood smoke, antebellum New York City apartments) or Côte d'Or Burgundy (fields of wildflowers, bee propolis) are core curriculum for any educated palate. While California reds don't age exactly like the French, a good five or seven years of bottle age does improve them greatly.
I like California cabernet sauvignons when they have 10 to 12 years of age. Charbono, also, needs time. Pinot noirs are best from five to seven years old, while zinfandels are varietally unique when young and fruity and become more like generic old reds as they age. I like them from three to five years old. But that's just me. As you explore the world's wines, you'll develop your own taste and critical judgment. The key is how much pleasure the wine is giving you.
Courses on Wine Appreciation
The cost of a self-education will run to several hundred dollars at least, but that's what it takes. There are also excellent wine education courses given in major cities, where knowledgeable people preselect wines for their quality. This route may cost less and take less time, and you'll be assured that the wines you're tasting are first-rate. The danger is that you may be unduly influenced in your taste by the teacher or others in the class — that is, you'll be more inclined to like what the "expert" likes. Self-education has this virtue: your favorite wines will really be your favorites. For in this final analysis, liking the wine makes all the difference. People who like sweet Italian pop wine are every bit as entitled to their opinion as is the connoisseur to his or her affection for Montrachet. One would hope, though, that education means refinement, and that taste will change with experience. For someone contemplating making fine wine at home, acquiring a love and knowledge of good wine is a prerequisite for success. Otherwise, one gets stuck in the trap of the dilettante and takes the scrawl of a monkey for high art.
Excerpted from "From Vines to Wines"
Copyright © 2015 Jeff Cox.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
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